Andy Warhol famously depicted a banana that peels back to reveal fleshy pink fruit on the cover of The Velvet Underground & Nico, but New York–based artist Aurel Schmidt doesn’t play it so subtle when it comes to making winking reference to the phallus—or pretty much anything else, for that matter. In one of her exquisitely rendered drawings, the banana peel encases an anatomically perfect penis. Schmidt’s work—which also includes ceramics and mixed-media pieces employing everything from coffee to wine to cum—wrestles with addiction, self-image, sex and the body, hashing together the sacred with the profane to achieve sometimes grotesque funhouse results. Her most recent series, Blast Furnace of Civilization, includes a colored-pencil drawing of a haloed, winged cherub whose body is a plucked and flayed chicken stuffed into a pair of Campbell’s Soup–branded Converse All Stars.
Schmidt is as adept at casting glazed porcelain statuettes as she is with works on paper, and her art seems most engaged when mining the trash stratum, both literally and figuratively. In the series Burnouts & Party Monsters, she presents crude and sad portraits of the high life with illustrations of used condoms, rolled dollars, cigarette butts and discarded panties as stand-ins for facial features built around actual cigarette burns. And in our favorite drawing, Schmidt toys with the iconic Playboy Rabbit Head, melding it with the austere image of an Indian Buddha head. Schmidt says the piece came from an affection for the Rabbit Head, a symbol she sees as both “posh” and “sexy.” In this new bastardization, it becomes, as she describes it, a “Westernized Buddha, the bodhisattva who has maybe scored some high-quality cocaine while on a meditation vacation in the Sacred Valley of Peru and engaged in tantric sex on organic 1,000-thread-count sheets.”